Sister Carol Zinn emphasizes connection between poverty, environment - Catholic Courier

Sister Carol Zinn emphasizes connection between poverty, environment

PITTSFORD — World poverty is closely linked with the state of the earth’s environment, Sister of St. Joseph Carol Zinn told listeners during an April 4 lecture at Nazareth College. What’s more, individuals — including college students — can take action against both of these problems and make a difference, she said.
 
Sister Zinn serves as a nongovernmental-organization representative in general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations, where she attends meetings on such topics as human rights, environmental issues, the eradication of poverty, peace and disarmament, education, sustainable development, health care, and the needs of women and children. Sister Zinn was at the college April 3 and 4 to present two lectures sponsored by the William H. Shannon Chair in Catholic Studies.
 
Not only do environmental problems such as global climate change affect poor people first, but poverty also has a direct impact on the state of the environment and is actually the most serious environmental issue on the planet, Sister Zinn said. Statistically speaking, four-fifths of the world’s residents are poor, she added.
 
"The environment is suffering mostly because of poverty, and that poverty is created because of the big mismatch between those of us who have and most of our brothers and sisters who do not have," she said. "One-fifth of the world’s population uses four-fifths of the world’s resources. The other four-fifths of our brothers and sisters are fighting each other over the remaining one-fifth of the world’s resources."
 
People who are poor are forced to do things that are environmentally unfriendly. For example, poor farmers in many areas are forced to plant the same crop year after year because they cannot afford to buy the expensive seeds necessary to plant other crops. The farmers depend on the crops for their livelihood, but after three years of planting the same crop, the six inches of topsoil on the surface of their fields will have lost all its nutrients, Sister Zinn said.
 
Everyone should be concerned about the planet’s well-being, she said, because the earth is a closed system, and the air and water we use today will be the same water used by generations to come.
 
"As far as we know this is the only place we can live," Sister Zinn said, holding up a large inflatable globe. "What I dump down my sink in Newark, N.J., matters because I’m dumping it into the world. What I dump down my sink in Newark, N.J., is going to fall down as snowflakes on the cheeks of your great-grandchildren."
 
The scope and enormity of these issues might dwarf individuals and make them feel helpless, she said. While grand gestures such as flying to Africa to help bring clean water to a village are very worthwhile and noble, there are other ways for individuals to take action. Instead, Sister Zinn suggested individuals look to their local communities and see what needs are right in front of them.
 
"If you want to know what to do locally, plant trees. You can’t plant too many trees. That’s an incredibly green thing to do," she said.
 
Individuals also can make purchasing decisions with the environment’s welfare in mind. Bottled water, for example, is convenient but very harmful to the environment because it requires large quantities of energy to produce and results in a huge number of discarded plastic bottles. Most of the bottled water in America is distributed and sold by three large companies — PepsiCo, Coca-Cola or Nestle.
 
A concerned individual, for example, might choose not only to refrain from buying bottled water, but also to boycott the myriad products associated with those companies, Sister Zinn said. PepsiCo, for example, is the parent company for Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker and Gatorade.
 
"Does Coca-Cola care if Carol Zinn buys a Coca-Cola product? Not really. But the important thing is Carol Zinn cares if she buys a bottle of Coke," Sister Zinn said, noting that companies will take notice if enough people start doing this.
 
"Your power is in your pocketbook, especially if you are a United States citizen," she added.
 
On a larger scale, many countries involved with the United Nations are beginning to realize the effects global climate change are already having and will have in the future, and they’re starting to work together against this change, Sister Zinn said. Countries need to enter into partnerships with each other to effect change, and this is different than simply collaborating or networking, drawing on the example of conception to illustrate her point.
 
"Here’s an example of partnership. The egg says to the sperm, ‘Here I am. Here’s everything I have. My DNA, chromosomes, everything,’" she said. Likewise, she said, the sperm brings everything it has to the table, and the two come together to create something neither is capable of making by itself.
 
Nations sometimes are hesitant to enter into partnerships because those relationships might threaten the nation’s power and position, Sister Zinn said.
 
"You can’t be number one and still be a partner. You can’t do both," she remarked.

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